Compared to other high-income countries, the U.S. has a high rate of maternal mortality, and in Utah, substance use is the leading cause of pregnancy-related death. With $14 million in support over seven years from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the University of Utah ELEVATE Maternal Health Research Center of Excellence aims to reverse that trend. The center is committed to partnering with the communities that are affected most, including rural and Native American populations, to change the story for mothers with substance use disorders in Utah and throughout the country.
“This investment from the National Institutes of Health in promoting maternal health in partnership with the community will allow us to create the necessary infrastructure and garner appropriate resources to make strides in preventing the incredibly tragic event of maternal death, which always has far-reaching consequences,” says Torri Metz, M.D., the project’s principal investigator. Metz is a maternal-fetal medicine subspecialist at U of U Health and vice chair of research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine.
ELEVATE’s programs will center on improving health equity with a special focus on Native mothers. This includes addressing stigma around addiction, logistical challenges, and cultural differences that prevent mothers from accessing care. When left untreated, the negative effects of substance use disorders can become widespread. Issues that compromise the health of mothers can also affect the well-being of children, families, communities, and workplaces.
Grant funding will support initiatives to reduce pregnancy-related complications and deaths by:
- Developing culturally adapted health care practices for addiction before, during, and in the year following pregnancy
- Training health care providers to address the needs of communities with limited access to appropriate care
- Disseminating best practices throughout Utah and the U.S.
To reach populations and health care providers in affected communities, ELEVATE is joining forces with community partners across Utah. One collaborative project will establish a perinatal clinic at Sacred Circle, a health system operated by Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, to develop and provide culturally adapted care. Partnerships with Moab Regional Hospital and Central Valley Medical Center will focus on reducing bias and improving care by creating and implementing specialized training programs for medical staff.
“Addressing rising maternal deaths will take innovative approaches to overcome structural barriers such as racism, classism, and stigma.”
Together with these community partners and the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness (USARA), and Utah Women and Newborns Quality Collaborative, the University of Utah ELEVATE Maternal Health Research Center of Excellence will generate scientific evidence to guide clinical care for the populations that need it most.
“Addressing rising maternal deaths will take innovative approaches to overcome structural barriers such as racism, classism, and stigma,” Metz says.
Metz is leading ELEVATE with U of U Health faculty Erin Johnson, Ph.D., as the ELEVATE Center director, and Michelle Debbink, M.D., Adam Gordon, M.D., Marcela Smid, M.D., Susanna Cohen, D.N.P., Melissa Watt, Ph.D., Dave Turok, M.D., Jasmin Charles, P.A., J.D. Smith, Ph.D. and Tom Greene, Ph.D.